Archive for the ‘The Coach’ Category

Competition Day: Success When It Counts

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

How many of us who have competed at a high level of sport have suffered with the jitters, or succumbed to the pressure of competition and not performed as well as we know we can at one time or another?

How did you react to this? Did you brush it off with a blasé comment such as “I just didn’t feel right today”, or maybe “the venue isn’t up to what I am used to” or some other excuse. For some of us this is an all too familiar problem. Sometimes, we are never able to “be alright on the night” and for all intent and purposes many promising competitive careers are destroyed by this and it happens from within our own mind.

So why do some athletes show phenomenal talent in the training hall but crumble when it comes to competition day?

It’s a common scenario in elite sport, and a scenario that is played out in every sporting discipline on every continent. Is it the pressure? Is it the venue? Or is it something more sinister?

I used to train and compete with a guy who was probably one of the greatest Gymnastic talents I had seen come out of the UK. He was everything a Gymnast should be – he was physically ideal, as though he was a kit gymnast built with a specific purpose in mind. An athlete that had been made to measure and assembled like a high performance sports car – with nothing to spare. He certainly had the dedication, talent and fantastic family support.

I used to watch him as he would pick up new moves easily, remember set routines without a second glance and had the arrogance to intimidate.

He was a couple of years older than me and the time had come where I was due to compete against him. I woke the morning of the competition feeling nervous, reflective and rather overwhelmed – I knew he was better than I and he was favourite to win.

As we warmed up prior to the competition I could see him hitting his routines with fighter pilot accuracy, as he had done all season in the gym – yet I noticed something new, something in his face. He appeared uncomfortable, agitated and almost worried. I wondered why? He certainly was a class above the rest of us and he knew it.

And so he took to the floor to perform his first routine, he was fidgety and he wasn’t acting in his usual confident – arrogant – strutting way. I could feel that air of arrogance was completely gone, on his opening line he fell! I had seen him perform that line hundreds of times without a second thought and never had he fallen! His routine was second rate and when all was said and done and after all six apparatus he finished 11th place.

We competed over many years after that day. He continued to be the champion of the training hall and never won a competition, falling in to the category of an under achiever and fading into the background never to be seen again.

So what can we surmise from this? Is it that physical ability or even talent isn’t what wins competitions or defines a true champion? It has to be something more. Sure, you have to be able to compete in the competition in order to be competitive, but it would appear the edge is your mental strength not the physical – that is the defining aspect!

So what defines the Olympic swimming legend Ian Thorp as a champion?  His physical technique has been studied, scrutinised and copied by many swimmers around the world. His physical strength has been surpassed by others yet he continues to get better and better results. So you have to ask yourself – why?

I believe it is his personal ability to not succumb to the pressure. Whether he is competing in a local swim meet or the Olympic Games, the same swimmer enters the pool time after time after time and produces the same consistent results! We have all heard Ian talking about competing against himself and himself alone and that’s what matters to him, mentally eliminating his competitors before he enters the pool.

Going back to the Gymnast. He had trained himself to succeed in the training hall but he would perform differently at competition, drawing on different learnt behaviour and a different set of neurological points of reference. He would spend 50 hours a week honing his approach to the routine and on competition day would not apply the same thought process – so essentially he was competing without preparing. He left his best performance in the training hall, never achieving anything near his potential.

When I was competing, I was always told to train as though it is a competition, I never knew why at the time and to be honest I don’t think my coach did either. I now know there is a sound scientific philosophy behind that throwaway statement.

Every action we perform creates an imprint in the brain, this becomes our neurological point of reference for the next time we perform that action! So when you go to cross the road you will look left and then right as taught from a very young age What starts as a conscious action becomes an unconscious action, or more commonly known as our behaviour.

So if you moved to a country where the traffic travelled in a different direction? You would need to retrain your behaviour, creating new neurological points of reference to look Right then Left. Obviously this can be done – it just needs some conscious thought processes for a period of time before again it becomes an unconscious action, or a new behaviour.

So if you train a bad habit, it then becomes your point of neurological reference and your behaviour! Our cerebellum doesn’t differentiate or even assess, it just does what is asked of it and that replicate.

Using the same philosophy, what if you train for perfection in the training hall but when you come to compete you draw on a different neurological point of reference? You may spend hours saying to yourself “What if I fall?” or “Don’t fall!” So when you start to compete you are concentrating on falling and what the consequences of that action would be!

Inevitably you will fall because your mind is dealing with that action. This fall becomes your competition neurological point of reference. You may have noticed either yourself, or other competitors consistently stumble or fall at the same point of a routine or the same stage of a race or they may not make the crucial pass time after time. The England Football squad (soccer) have an issue with penalty shootouts often crumbling at this crucial time.

So it wouldn’t matter how many hours had been spent practicing and to what standard – you would only ever perform at your competition blueprint – your neurological point of reference for that action / situation unless you retrained this behaviour.

So how do we change these negative neurological behavioural trends?

Well the easiest way is to first understand what makes a successful pattern and then replicate your successful behavioural pattern in the training hall and put it in the competition venue by training how you wish to compete. Train as though it’s a competition, giving your mind less available options when it is under duress or looking for answers.

When devising training programs, incorporate a formal competitive module in every training session. Increase the number of these modules as you build towards the competition date. Teach the brain to look for successful options and to refine its search to what you have trained

If, however you have had ineffective behaviour for a period of time, it may be necessary to scramble the old neurological imprint. This will render it useless as a point of reference, making your mind look for a more suitable reference point.

For this a behavioural coach would be required.

This is a psychological pattern reimprint, just replacing the old negative point of reference (action) with a more desirable one. If we can do this for you think of the possibilities open to you and your performance.

Your first step is to assess your performance and ascertain if in-deed you need to improve? Where you want to be and what you want from your sporting career.

Then when you have a clear idea of your direction then let us help put you onto that path.

The Role of a Coach in High Performance Sport

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

 

As an athlete, we generally look to our coach for guidance, to nurture us and show us the trusted path to travel to our desired competitive destination. We trust them emphatically with our careers and often with our lives, certainly with our goals, aspirations and sporting futures.

So as a coach we have this huge responsibility placed in our laps, one that we should not take lightly nor for granted, one false move can have devastating consequences not only for the athlete but also for the reputation of us the coach.

My coach for example would say ‘whilst in my Gym I am your mum, your dad, your brother, sister and your best friend, everything you want and need goes through me.’ To people on the outside it must have appeared draconian, controlling, manipulative and maybe even a little psychologically abusive, especially considering we were young impressionable kids at the time.

To us however, it was a brotherhood, a secret society, this high performance – highly motivated gang of athletes. A gang who shared common goals, who appreciated discipline, hard work and respect.

We knew where we stood and what was expected of us, we also understood the concept of accountability with every single action equalling a consequence. If we didn’t perform we didn’t succeed, it was that simple.

If my coach had said jump I would have in a heartbeat, without thought or question, he commanded respect and discipline, needless to say he got them both. He certainly wielded a stronger motivation to succeed than anyone else in my life, even more than my parents. I never questioned his authority nor ability as a coach, why should I, he had produced most of Britains national squad members at one time or another.

After retiring from International competition and becoming a coach myself, I realised very quickly however, just how lucky I had been. You see I thought all coaches were as dedicated, well educated, motivated and pioneering as mine was. I could not have been any more disillusioned if I had tried.

You see my first job as a high performance coach pulled me up dead in my tracks. As I walked in as the new fulltime head coach to what I expected to be a professional sporting organization, they certainly had the reputations of being an industry leader; they produced results year after year, so why wouldn’t they be top-notch?

What I got however was an organisation that was subdued mentality, one where it was acceptable to slip into a groove and remain there, in fact it was expected.

A systemic mentality that appeared to be, hit and miss as to the direction of the tuition being given and where technique was the only consideration to achieving success.

Not because the coaching staff were unqualified, in actual fact the opposite was true in this case. They were very highly qualified technical coaches, they understood the sport inside out and in theory what an athlete was required to do in order to achieve. However they appeared to have forgotten the human factor, the idiosyncrasies that come with working with humans and their totally individual behaviour.

The coaches appeared oblivious to this and had no idea of the power they held in their hands and held over these young athletes. If they did it certainly did not occur to them the daily decisions they made could and would have affected the careers and possibly the lives of these young hopefuls.

Sure, the coaches worked hard, they were technically knowledgeable and they knew what was current and what was yesterday’s news for the athletes. They were groundbreakers in their technical application and would talk strategies until the cows came home.

But none of them spoke of the internal management of the athlete, no one spoke of what affects it would impose on their developing neurology and I certainly never heard anyone utter the words effective communication when discussing an individual.

Of course, I initially thought I had just made an unfortunate selection of employer, but as time went by and my exposure grew, I saw a pattern emerging, a pattern that was concerning and rather self-destructive to the coaching industry.

Coaches at all levels were not progressing commencery to that of their athletes; they were coaching the same way they had always done. Their whole focus was on the athlete’s immediate results and not their own understanding, development and long term prospects. No longer were they supporting a healthy growth they were hindering the athlete’s natural developmental progress by being a weight around their ankles and coaching them to learn the way they taught.

For years we would attend compulsory technical ‘up-dates’ time after time, we were taught new technical skills, conditioning programs and even routine construction, but never once were we taught better coaching techniques or coaching psychology and philosophy.  There was no self-development and as times changed, we did not. Being left behind, and even worse holding the athletes back due to our short falls as a coach, was a serious option.

I read a statistic once that stated over 70% of all National coaches (US) irrespective of sporting discipline primarily held the same coaching philosophy on their last day on the job as their first day.

For me this was horrendous, how can we as professional organisation of coaches expect our athletes to grow, mature and evolve with the times if we as their guides and mentors choose not to and stick with the tried and trusted?

When you take on a talented athlete what is the first thing that goes through your head? Is it ‘Do I have the ability and longevity to take this athlete all the way or at least the knowledge and ability to pass him / her up stream?’ or is it ‘What can I do for them today?’

I would suggest as professional coaches we need to ensure we have the ability or at the very least the opportunity to gain the experience to take the athlete all the way. I mean you wouldn’t buy a car knowing it will only get you half way to your destination, would you?

How much do you know about the athletes you manage? Their behavioural patterns, their training and competition strategies, their motivators, referencing  or even their values. Are you utilising the athletes optimum neurological system configuration, or is it just down to pot luck.

Whatever your coaching philosophy is – is it good enough for what you want to achieve? When was the last time you considered your athletes mental state, their neurological development or even their long-term mental welfare.

Over the years, I have changed my coaching philosophy from one of purely results driven to a more wholistic approach, developing, growing and nurturing not only the athlete but the coaching staff and parents too. Only then when the athlete has the collective supporting infrastructure can they achieve their desired goals sustainably.

So stop and look over your shoulder at the way you have approached your professional coaching career and ask yourself have you neglected the one truly stable influence in your athlete’s life? You! And if so what can you do today to bring yourself up to speed with the changing world of sport.

What would you advise your athletes to do? Think about it! I did!

A Competitive Mind

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

When we took our first steps as babies, our parents were overjoyed, a milestone in our development, a natural evolution and progression an innate instinct that has driven our species to the top of the evolutionary chain.

We probably spent months rocking back and forth on our knees, entertaining our parents with every spill and fall as they waited in anticipation for us to move to the next rung on the ladder.

Little did we know at the time, we were creating a life long strategy for learning, a system that will dictate the effectiveness of many of the things we do and achieve in our lives.

Experts estimate we make several hundred attempts at standing, long before we finally succeed for the first time. Every time we stumble, fall or correct ourselves our brains are taking notes, assessing, reassessing and making instrumental adjustments. With these notes our brains fine-tune our behaviour and before long, standing is child’s play!

As adults, you would probably expect the learning process to be far more refined, maybe even more efficient as our brains develop, experience and apply adult logic. But has it?

Actually we follow pretty much the same basic strategy of attempt, assess, reattempt and reassess as we did as babies. We make mistakes and our brain readjusts for the next attempt, learning as we go each time correcting the previous mistakes and documenting its progress step by step.

Messages are sent to our brains where they are accessed, processed, and an action is dispatched, reassessed, reprocessed and re-dispatched.

After some time our brain become satisfied with it’s ability to cope with the requested action and delegates the role, it sends the patterned task to the cerebellum, which creates a neurological point of reference, a blueprint a reference for the next time we perform that or a similar action.

The cerebellum is a smaller area at the base of the brain, often referred to as the ‘little brain.’ It handles many of our subconscious behaviours, the reactions that have been created and perfected by our learning process.

This is all well and good but exceptionally time consuming and actually not at all efficient as it presupposes we will make countless mistakes before being successful.

Of course, this may take just fractions of a second in reality, but in a game where races are won and lost on those fractions, it makes sense to improve our odds by refining the process.
This is achievable because our bodies behave like computer operating systems, it communicate with others and internally using a specific individual language, a dialogue that is evolved through the assess and reassess protocol.

When we understand our own individual neurological language it allows us to effectively communicate our messages internally and externally with more precision, it also allows us to better understand and manage our responses by cutting out much of the hit and miss mentality.

And in the world of sport where split-second communication between mind and body is so crucial, a hybrid science was constructed utilising the best of performance psychology and NLP which teaches us how to develop these skills, honing them to be effective and efficient.

Talking our own specific language, as with the computers operating system allows us to train an effective learning strategy, one without having to go through the arduous, time consuming traditional learning process. It also allows us to be specific and focused in our approach whilst imprinting the blueprint directly into the cerebellum.

This new leap forward in advanced learning has a new ally in its corner ‘Hemisphere training’ a relatively new science in neurological stimulation. It takes learning to the next level by specifically stimulating the brains receptors, priming them to learn, absorb and react far more efficiently.

Teaching the brain to be hyper alert, like our own elite internal fighter pilot, priming before imprinting the specific actions into your thought process – giving your mind perfect, efficient options each and every time.

This can eliminate months of traditional training and costly mistakes from the repetitive training process, it also reduces the likelihood of both physical and mental fatigue and injury all a common complaint amongst high performance athlete.

This cutting edge science is the next evolutionary step in creating the perfect athlete.

Have you (neurologically) Immunised your Athlete?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

In a study compiled by the UCL Institute of Child Health and the UK’s Great Ormond St Hospital it states that: In 2002 89% of all UK children were immunised against the Measles, Mumps and Rubella viruses. This left only 11% of unprotected children exposed to the virus.

These impressive statistics are helping to drive Health practitioners and parents across many countries to immunise their children, as there is clear evidence it is smart, effective and responsible parenting.

So what is immunisation and what has it got to do with sport?

Immunisation is an orchestrated exposure that allows the body to learn just how best to manage and deal with the real thing.
It’s effectively training the body to cope under attack and strategises its defence.

Once exposed the Human body creates a blue print of how the intruder is constructed and how it is best defeated, before storing this vital information as a chemical recipe within the bodies cellular system ready for any potential invader.

So clearly immunising our bodies from potential threats is a responsible and effective form of risk management. And is something that could and indeed should be applied to many areas of our lives from a welfare and development perspective.

Yet we are increasingly exposing our athletes to potentially short and long-term psychological detriment from such invaders as physical and psychological fatigue, depression, poor self-esteem, unachieved potential, to name just a few and all without any form of effective ‘immunisation.’

If exposing our bodies to a controlled and specifically designed synthesised virus protects us from its potentially harmful origins by building our immune system data base – then surely why wouldn’t you utilise this same proven science to immunise your athlete’s mind?

By neurologically walking the athlete through their preparation, competition, training and emotional build-up we can help them build a healthy neurological immunity date base to protect against their potential negative effects.

This is achieved by allowing the athlete’s mind to take ownership of its journey through the athlete’s effective and fertile imagination – utilising visualisation training harnessed with hemisphere stimulation.

We are all aware that ‘practice makes perfect’ so why not ensure your athlete practices how they would deal with competition specifics, technical moves, skills, stresses, emotional situations, fatigue even pain.

All within a safe, nurturing and educational environment that creates a lasting and powerful blueprint for the athlete to fall back on in times of heightened physical and emotional stress.

Through deeply layered and carefully constructed visualisation we covertly layer available options into the subconscious, leaving efficient desirable strategies available to the athlete.

This along with specifically targeted hemisphere stimulation impregnates this into their neurology building effective neural pathways.
By specifically crafting the visualisation you can control and directly dissociate the athlete from the harshness of some issues yet effectively allow them to create a connection to the desirable outcomes on their own terms.

We know increased emotion depletes the body of oxygen and inhibits the free-flow of muscle action.

The athlete can then make their own associations on their own level and in their own time – creating long-term sustainability dissipating the emotional attachments.

This allows the athlete to explore the different strategies open to them without feeling manipulated and or pressured into an ill-fitting outcome. By allowing them a certain amount of creative and imaginative freedom an athlete will gain ownership to their journey.

This ownership will embed the strategies deep within their neurology ready for any potential exposures in the future just as immunisation does to the body.